Cambodian Justice Ministry confirms the release of 26 jailed activists. Another 60 political prisoners are still in custody.

A justice ministry spokesperson denied any international pressure and said the prisoners were freed partly to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
A justice ministry spokesperson denied any international pressure and said the prisoners were freed partly to reduce overcrowding in prisons. (Reuters)

Cambodia has released 26 political, environmental and youth activists facing charges of incitement against the government, which human rights groups said was a positive step but that many more remained incarcerated.

A justice ministry spokesperson, confirming the release of the jailed activists on Wednesday, denied any international pressure and said they were freed partly to reduce overcrowding in prisons.

"This is a normal court procedure, the court didn't pay attention to whether you are activists or not," Chin Malin told Reuters on Wednesday.

"This is a campaign to help solve cases that are stuck in courts and reduce the capacity in crowded prisons," he added.

Among those released between November 5 and 12 were members of the environment group Mother Nature Cambodia, opposition party activists and the union leader Rong Chhun, Human Rights Watch said. But charges against them have not been dropped.

"The release of 26 wrongfully detained political prisoners is good news, but there is nothing to stop the Cambodian authorities from re-arresting them at any time,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Dozens still in prison

Another 60 political prisoners remain in custody, the rights group said.

"We appeal to the government to release other youth and political activists unconditionally as they should never have been imprisoned for raising critical issues about the environment or rule of law in Cambodia in the public domain," said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group LICADHO.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years, is facing calls to improve his administration's human rights record ahead of an Asia Europe summit that it hosts this month.

READ MORE: Is Cambodia becoming a new flashpoint between China and the US?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies